Eldercare: Feeding Tubes

Feeding tubes are a medical device used for people with medical conditions that impair chewing and swallowing. The feeding tube allows for liquidized nutrition to be administered for people who are unable to eat independently. While it is a difficult choice for the individual and the primary caregiver to make, it is indispensable to the health and physical wellness of those who cannot feed themselves. Due to the nature of this assistive device, primary caregivers and families often may have to make this decision on behalf of their elderly loved ones. Therefore, it is important for them to have clear information on the reasoning for feeding tubes and how they work.

The Reasoning for Feeding Tubes

Why feeding tubes are used is highly dependent, as they are a common assistive device for many medical conditions. Feeding tubes can be a temporary or permanent solution depending on the circumstance. Those with short-term feeding needs, such as those who have been in a major accident or through a significant surgery, benefit from feeding tubes during the healing process. However, those with chronic or long-term medical conditions, such as brain injury, esophageal cancers, and neurological disorders may require part-time or full-time feeding tubes for the rest of their life.  A feeding tube may also be necessary for those who are developing dysphagia which increases the risk of choking. As well, if a patient is required to be placed on a ventilator for them to breathe, they will also have to be put on a feeding tube.

Types of Feeding Tubes

Just as the use of feeding tubes may be part-time or full-time and short term and long term, they also have different types to suit those varieties of needs. There are two main types of feeding tubes: surgically inserted and non-surgically inserted.

Surgically Inserted Feeding Tubes

Feeding tubes that are surgically inserted are inserted through an incision in the abdominal wall which is normally called a stoma. Due to the nature of them being surgically inserted, they are used for long-term or permanent use. However, they can be removed if necessary.

Non-Surgically Inserted Feeding Tubes

Feeding tubes that are non-surgically inserted are inserted through the nose or mouth. The feeding tube may also end up in the stomach or small intestine depending on nutrition and medication requirements. These styles of feeding tubes are intended to be short-term and used for temporary feedings while the person heals and regains their ability to eat safely.

The Decision to Use a Feeding Tube

Feeding tubes are lifesaving assistive devices that can improve your elderly loved one’s quality of life, both short term, and long term. The decision to insert a feeding tube can be a difficult one as it reminds us of their vulnerability. As well, some people may not wish to have one inserted in cases of the permanent loss of the swallowing function. Living wills and the primary caregiver’s best judgment are the compasses to make such an important and delicate decision. The choice to insert a feeding tube is not an easy decision, but it may be the best way to assist them in their healing process. Primary caregivers do not need to feel alone in this decision, as the elderly patient’s family doctor and attending physicians can help inform the decision.


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